Welcome to the first installment of “Dear Callous Stranger,” an advice column of some sort.
Dear Callous Stranger, Maybe "It was just her time to die" was not the best thing to say to your secretary, who was crushed by the recent suicide of her sister. Signed, Angry Annna
Dear Angry Annna,
Holy fucking shit.
A Brief Note to Everyone Else
I’d like to offer a word of advice to all acquaintances of the bereaved (other than Annna’s boss, who will be fired into the Sun for the sake of humanity).
I know that you feel the need to say something, something, to co-workers who are grieving, but please consider shutting the fuck up. If you lack the empathy to realize that your input is neither wanted nor required, try not saying anything at all. Almost anything you say will sound like nails on a chalkboard at best, a dental drill in bone at worst.
Dammit, I can see it in your eyes. You’re going to say something, you need to say something to salve your desire to make everything about you. Let’s start with what not to say:
- “It was just their time.” Thanks, all-knowing judge of the proper lengths of life! Their death was inevitable, even desirable, especially since you know so much about the bereaved’s life and that of their loved one. Your grave implication of intimacy doesn’t make you seem at all like an emotionless jerk.
- “It is what it is.” How do you function?
- “They’re in a better place.” Gee, thanks God!
- “At least they’re not suffering any more.” See, this is okay for the bereaved to say to him or herself. It’s okay for their family to say. When you say it, you sound like a sick fuck walking around with a pillow ready to smother a few grannies.
- “You should…” I’m just going to stop you right there. If you’re not close to the person, and if you’re not sure that they’d like advice, you don’t know shit about the proper way for them to grieve.
Let’s say that you’re truly concerned. An acquaintance is still in the acute stages of grief, and you’d like to offer some support. That can be okay. There are three, precisely three, things that are okay for you to say.
- “I want you to know that I’m here for you.” Don’t press. Make yourself available, then get out of Dodge.
- “I’m so sorry.” Safe, succinct, to the point. If they reply with “why should you be sorry?” try statement 1, then get out of Dodge.
- “How are you?” Heaven help you if you try this without knowing beforehand exactly how they are.
That’s it. All done. Now give your co-worker some space and leave it to their friends and family to give them the support they really need. Tepid, perfunctory platitudes rate pretty low on the “things grieving people love to hear” list.
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